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Answering Yair Lapid’s (contemptuous) questions about refugees

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Israeli MK Yair Lapid (‘centrist’ Yesh Atid party) asks UNRWA Spokesperson Chris Gunness questions (posted on his Facebook wall yesterday, 5th of July), referring to Gunness’scritique of yesterday’s two “punitive” house demolitions in Qalandia refugee camp in the West Bank.

I decided to answer each and every one myself (I’ll present it as Q&A between “Lapid” and “Me”).

Lapid: UNRWA Spokesperson Chris Gunness harshly criticized our decision to demolish the homes of two terrorists who last December stabbed two Israelis to death at the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem.

I have one question for Mr. Gunness:

What does this have to do with you?

Me: Mr. Lapid, it happens to be that Mr. Gunness is Spokesperson, Director of Advocacy & Strategic Communications for UNRWA. When you demolish houses, you are committing a war crime. As Gunness already points out in his critique (did you actually read it?), “Punitive home demolitions are a form of collective punishment which are illegal under international law. They inflict distress and suffering on those who have not committed the action that led to the demolition and they often endanger people and property in the vicinity”. The demolitions affect many other family members. Here, they are targeting refugees, already under the auspices of UNRWA, so of course it is a concern of Gunness. Israel may say that the welfare of the refugees are not its concern, but they should be. As Gunness also notes, “under international humanitarian law it [Israel] has an obligation to protect the occupied people and provide services”. Gunness is picking up the slack for you. It is very much to do with him.

Lapid: Actually I have another one:

Who asked you?

Me: As Gunness again already noted in his critique, “UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight”.

So you see Lapid, UNRWA was asked by the international community, the UN, to take care of the people whose lives were shattered by the ethnic cleansing your country committed in 1948, the plight of which you have never really cared about. Gunness has thus been asked by the international community to take care of those whom you terrorize through your “deterrence”.

Lapid: UNRWA is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. Its role is clear. It is meant to help Palestinians find work and if they can’t find work then to assist them with food and medication.

That’s it. It doesn’t have another role. There is nothing in UNRWA’s mandate which justifies intervention in security matters. There is nothing in Chris Gunness’ past which qualifies him to give us advice on how to protect ourselves.

Me: Mr. Lapid, as already quoted, the UNRWA is also there to protect people – which you attack. Do I really need to elaborate?

Lapid: And if we’re already speaking Chris, here are another few questions:

Why doesn’t the State of Israel appear on maps in UNRWA schools?

Me: UNRWA is obliged to run the curriculum of the state or authority under which it works. Until 1967 this was Jordan (West Bank) and Egypt (Gaza). Since 1994 (with the creation of the Palestinian Authority), there has thus been a merging of UNRWA curriculum under the PA. Thus we must look at the UNRWA curriculum as part of the PA curriculum. In a report commissioned by the USA Department of State, [pdf here] (covering both UNRWA and other Palestinian schools, note that UNRWA schools are about 13% of Palestinian schools), the conclusion regarding maps in Palestinian textbooks was this:

“(58%) had no borders within the area [historical Palestine], no reference to Israel and referred to the entire area as Palestine”.

But look at this, Mr. Lapid: Out of 258 Israeli textbook maps that the report covered, in 196 cases the texts (75%) “did not indicate any borders (i.e., line, color or other demarcation) between Israeli and Palestinian areas, although borders were indicated between Israel and neighboring countries (e.g., Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria) and the labels Palestine or Palestinian Authority did not appear anywhere on the maps. Since these maps are presented as maps of Israel, the absence of borders between Israel and Palestine and the absence of the label Palestinian Authority can be seen as implying that the Palestinian areas are part of the State of Israel. In the State system, 65% of the maps do not have borders and in the Ultra-Orthodox systems 95% of the maps do not have borders”.

So, Mr. Lapid, it’s time to look in the mirror once again.

Lapid: If you condemn violence, why were you silent when it became clear that an UNRWA building was used as a hiding place for a terror tunnel used to kill three Israeli soldiers?

Me: I suppose you are speaking about the July 30th 2014 incident? This one. Well, the Times of Israel says that “the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the military unit that implements government policies in the Palestinian areas, later said that the clinic in Abu Daka, outside Khan Younis, was last registered as a sensitive location three years ago, ‘and it hasn’t been since.’…The spokesperson said the site had not been registered then as belonging to UNRWA, leading to speculation that, perhaps, militants stole the sign and tacked it on the door, posting it as a security umbrella under which a tunnel could be dug.”

In any case, Mr. Lapid, these are not “terror tunnels”. You have just mentioned a case of engagement with military – and that is what these tunnels have been used for, exclusively so – military engagement. Military resistance to occupation falls under provisions of international law, and is not terror.

Lapid: Why are the Palestinians the only ones in the world allowed to pass down the status of refugee from one generation to the next? Why can someone be born in Qatar, live in a villa in Paris, hold a Spanish passport and still be considered a Palestinian refugee?

Me: Gunness answers this quite thoroughly in another document [link here]: “Questions raised about the passing of refugee status through generations stem from a lack of understanding of the international protection regime. These questions serve only to distract from the need to address the real reasons for the protracted Palestinian refugee situation, namely the absence of negotiated solution to the underlying political issues…UNHCR‘s Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for determining Refugee Status provides in paragraph 184: ‘If the head of a family meets the criteria of the definition, [for refugee status] his dependents are normally granted refugee status according to the principle of family unity.’…In effect, refugee families everywhere retain their status as refugees until they fall within the terms of a cessation clause or are able to avail themselves of one of three durable solutions already mentioned — voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement in a third country.”

As a “refugee” Jew claiming a national “right of return”, Mr. Lapid, you should be the last to criticize that…

Lapid: Why is it that among the 23,000 UNRWA employees are there so many Hamas people (I didn’t say that Chris – as you know the Secretary General of your organization said so himself)?

Me: Hmm, do you mean Peter Hansen, UNRWA Commissioner General, who on October 4th 2004 said “I am sure that there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll and I don’t see that as a crime… we do not do political vetting and exclude people from one persuasion as against another”? Well, yes, Hamas is a political organization, and Hansen didn’t say “so many”, he just assumed that “there are”, as in “probably”. One does not have to be asked political orientation when taking on a job in UNRWA, it’s beside the point.

Lapid: In actual fact, why is it that only the Palestinians have a refugee agency of their own? What do they deserve that the 21.5 million refugees from Tibet, Darfur, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere don’t?

Me: Yes Mr. Lapid, there are other refugees worldwide. In fact, some 65.3 million worldwide are forcibly displaced, 21.3 million are refugees under UNHCR and UNRWA (16.1 and 5.2 respectively), as well as 10 million stateless people. Here’s the UNHCR link. But I ask myself, Lapid, what disturbs you so much here? Do you think it’s a dance on roses to be a refugee under UNRWA? Aren’t we getting a bit petty here?

Lapid: How is it that since UNRWA was founded, in 1950, the number of refugees has increased from 750,000 to over 5 million (!) without a single Palestinian being expelled? Is UNRWA creating refugees?

Me: Oh dear, Mr. Lapid, I’ve heard the same nonsense from Dani Ayalon as well – it’s really such a no brainer: If you consider population growth of roughly 3% (Gaza is a bit higher, West Bank is a bit lower), you will get these figures. It isn’t rocket science. Amazing that you keep using this one. Besides Palestinians are being expelled routinely by Israel – East Jerusalem is a prime example.

Lapid: And a question to the citizens of the United States:

Do you know that your taxpayer dollars fund over a hundred million dollars a year of this insanity?

Me: Do they know that their taxpayer dollars fund over 3 billion dollars a year (a number expected to grow) as direct military aid to Israel, so that people like you, Lapid, are able to advise that any Palestinian holding a screwdriver could immediately be shot dead? 

About Jonathan Ofir

Israeli musician, conductor and blogger / writer based in Denmark.

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17 Responses

  1. JWalters
    July 6, 2016, 6:07 pm

    Here’s a recent article on how the war profiteers also profit from the masses of refugees their wars create.
    How War Profiteers Are Now Refugee Profiteers

    • just
      July 6, 2016, 8:15 pm

      It’s the MIC in action, JWalters!

      Thanks for this amazing and thorough piece, Jonathan. You continue to inspire and motivate me to continue to break down the obdurate ‘walls’. I very much appreciate your voice amd will pass this along.

  2. Marnie
    July 6, 2016, 11:35 pm

    Lapid is such a troll. “There is a Future” as long as you are of the correct religious/ethic background. Thanks for taking him to the woodshed for a “lesson” Jonathan.

  3. RoHa
    July 7, 2016, 12:13 am

    It’s The Return of the Terror Tunnels!

  4. Jonathan Ofir
    Jonathan Ofir
    July 7, 2016, 2:32 am

    Thank you Just.

  5. Mayhem
    July 7, 2016, 9:42 am

    One of those Palestinian ‘refugees’ Bassem Eid woke up to the fact that UNRWA staff are just out to perpetuate the conflict in order to protect their own jobs; they have no interest in settling the refugee problem so their jobs don’t become obsolete. And as he said,
    “Most Palestinians believe that it (right of return) is not realistic any more. When leaders make the same promise for 66 years and do not deliver, most people realize that the leaders are liars. The UNRWA is a liar too because it is part of the battle for the right of return.
    In 2003 we had in Ramallah a very remarkable organization (Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, headed by Khalil Shikaki) that conducted a referendum among the Palestinian refugees.
    The question was “what is the solution that you are seeking from the international community?” Seventy percent of those surveyed said that they wanted compensation. I think that most Palestinian refugees want to be compensated and start rebuilding their lives and dignity. I visited refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, and the majority of the refugees don’t believe that the right of return is realistic.”
    As for paragraph 184 of the UNHCR handbook (not the UNRWA handbook by the way) it states following what Ofir has quoted, “Thus, a dependant member of a refugee family may be a national of the country of asylum or of another country, and may enjoy that country’s protection. To grant him refugee status in such circumstances would not be called for.”
    This explains why Palestinian refugees are the only people who have been artificially kept as refugees and not been absorbed by host countries. In Jordan, Syria and Lebanon for example Palestinian refugee camps exist because these counties have refused to give them citizenship and have kept them as pawns to oppose Israel.
    Palestinians are actually the ONLY group in the world all descendants of whom are counted as refugees, and they have their very own UN agency, UNRWA which receives over 4 times as much funding and employs 5 times more staff than UNHCR the agency which takes care of all the other world refugees combined. This is total insanity!

    • just
      July 7, 2016, 11:01 am

      “This is total insanity!”

      Thanks to the filthy Occupation, grand theft of land and resources, worse than apartheid practices, mass imprisonment, collective punishment, daily murdering, the ongoing and relentless Nakba, etc. You have only to allow Palestinians the very freedom, respect, and self- determination in their own land that you have persistently stolen from them @ the point of your weapons and racism.

      Problem solved.

    • talknic
      July 7, 2016, 11:13 am

      @ Mayhem jumps in the Ziopoop with DaBakr

      ” When leaders make the same promise for 66 years and do not deliver, most people realize that the leaders are liars.”

      How can they deliver when Israel won’t end its occupation and illegal settlements? Israel promised to adhere to the UN Charter. It hasn’t.

      ” The UNRWA is a liar too because it is part of the battle for the right of return”

      Nonsense. UNRWA’s mandate does not extent to final status.

      “As for paragraph 184 of the UNHCR handbook (not the UNRWA handbook by the way) it states following what Ofir has quoted, “Thus, a dependant member of a refugee family may be a national of the country of asylum or of another country, and may enjoy that country’s protection. To grant him refugee status in such circumstances would not be called for.”

      Any refugee having taken up the nationality of a country other than that of return is under the protection of and has citizenship rights of that country, they’re no longer a refugee. For example the Jewish refugees UNRWA provided for in Israel prior to 1953 when Israel finally decided to take care of them, became Israeli citizens, no longer refugees.

      “This explains why Palestinian refugees are the only people who have been artificially kept as refugees and not been absorbed by host countries”

      Bullsh*te. The host countries are not obliged to offer them citizenship. Israel IS OBLIGED to adhere to the refugee conventions and allow non-Jewish Israeli citizens their right to return AND to allow Palestinian refugees their right to return to whatever remains of Palestine

      “Palestinians are actually the ONLY group in the world all descendants of whom are counted as refugees,”

      More bullsh*te.

      ” UNRWA which receives over 4 times as much funding and employs 5 times more staff than UNHCR the agency which takes care of all the other world refugees combined. This is total insanity! “

      LOL Your insanity. It’s more of your unsubstantiated bullsh*te.

    • oldgeezer
      July 7, 2016, 3:54 pm


      I would nkt be surprised if a large majority of Palestinians would prefer to accept compensation over exercising the right of return. That is their decision to make although I would choose compensation over living in a deplorably racist state such as Israel. A state which shows all signs of becoming not only more racist but facist as well.

      As far as the refugee issue goes you are full of it and clearly can’t comprehend the English that you copied and pasted.

      Most zionist arguments are disingenuous and deceitful but in this case I think it’s sheer stupidity and ignorance.

    • zaid
      July 7, 2016, 5:26 pm

      I am a Palestinian refugee and i dont know anyone in my extended family and friends that does not want to return to Palestine ,despite being refugees in Jordan and having the Jordanian nationality.

      The claim that refugees would rather stay in the horrible refugee camps than go back to their field and homes in Palestine is absurd.

      Yes, no one wants to go back to a Jewish state that expelled them in the first place, but when the state is transformed to be for all its inhabitant everything change and that is what they all want.

    • annie
      July 7, 2016, 5:42 pm

      Bassem Eid is an anomaly and does not represent any sort of mainstream opinion in palestine society in palestine or the diaspora. he’s sort of the go to guy if you want a palestinian speaker bashing palestinians as i recall. he’s promoted by zionists and pro zionist publications.

      so while it’s fair to say “One of those Palestinian ‘refugees’” to get your foot in the door, he only represents himself and the opinions of people who want to deflect focus away from zionist culpability to anchor it on palestinians.

      that said, his name was as far as i got on reading your comment. again, he doesn’t represent palestinian opinion and people cite him to get creds for having a “palestinian view”.

    • David44
      July 8, 2016, 8:26 am

      “Palestinians are actually the ONLY group in the world all descendants of whom are counted as refugees”

      That is straightforwardly false. To add to the general statement of legal principles about how refugee status is transmitted, which Jonathan Ofir quotes from Chris Gunness in the main article, my guess is that you know nothing about the critical position of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. There are something like 1.6 million of them, most of whom have been there since the Soviet invasion in the 1980s (see Of those 1.6 million, around 30% were NOT born in Afghanistan (see They have refugee status by descent, exactly as the Palestinians do.

      • Mayhem
        July 10, 2016, 11:09 pm

        The Afghani refugees are mainly those born in Afghanistan with about 30% direct descendants (first generation). Here we are talking of families who have been directly impacted from the war in their country and not descendants who have no direct link any more with the place from which their dim and distant ancestors may have fled.
        The ruse with alleged Palestinian refugees is the unique definition applied to ‘Palestinian’ “refugees.” UNRWA count not only those who actually left their homes but those in ALL succeeding generations, presumably forever. Any descendants of Palestine refugee males, including adopted children, are considered eligible for registration.
        @David44, this unique, on-going entitlement for ‘Palestinians’ in perpetuity is what I believe is and have referred to as “total insanity”.

      • David44
        July 12, 2016, 9:52 am


        As far as I can see, you have simply invented the distinction you are making here. Naturally, among refugees whose ancestors fled in 1948, there is going to be a much higher proportion of 2nd and even 3rd generation members than there will be among those whose ancestors fled in 1980. But by now (more than 30 years later) there are some 2nd generation refugees even among the Afghans (see, for example, for evidence); there will be many more if the refugee situation persists as long as it has for the Palestinians.

        Once again, there is NOTHING unique about Palestinians here: ALL refugees’ status remains in perpetuity. You have been given legal evidence that this is the case: I have provided an actual example of it. Yet you persist in denying it, and claiming a uniqueness for the Palestinians which has no basis at all in reality. If you want to challenge this, you are going to have to supply actual evidence, not mere assertion. Actually having facts is far more persuasive than making them up as you go along.

  6. Qualtrough
    July 7, 2016, 11:41 pm

    In the eyes of Zionists the UN is a despicable organization. Unless they are defending Israel’s legitimacy as a state. Then UN recognition of the state of Israel is EVERYTHING.

  7. Citizen
    July 8, 2016, 5:12 am

    So Israel wants to blame the Palestinian families it terrorized out of their homeland in the first place for their own status as refugees without acknowledging those Palestinian families remain refugees by international law and entitled to return or compensation? What happens when one applies the same logic to Jewish families’ who move to Israel via right of return, say families born in the USA generations ago?

  8. MaxNarr
    July 13, 2016, 5:49 pm

    UNRWA= United Nations Rocket Warehousing Agency

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